Monday, January 13, 2014

Wobbly times number 173

a speech given by Karl Marx to citizen members of the International Workingmen's Association in September, 1865

By way of introduction, I think I should provide a bit of the historical context in which this speech/debate took place.  The links above and below in blue will take you to original documentation.

 The Minute Book of the General Council of the International Workingmen's Association
on August 1, 1865.

When Marx is addressing Citizen Weston and his arguments in this speech, he is also making a critique of Ferdinand Lassalle's theories which were having a great influence in some circles of the workers' movement. Lasalle accepted the idea, first posited by the classical economist David Ricardo, that wage rates in the long run tended towards the minimum level necessary to sustain the life of the worker and to provide for his reproduction. In accord with what he called, "The Iron Law of Wages", Lassalle argued that individual measures of self-help by wage workers, such as strikes and organisation into unions, were destined to failure and that only producers' cooperatives established with the financial aid of the political State would make economic improvement of the workers' lives possible. From this, it followed that the political action of the workers to capture State power was paramount and the organization of trade unions to struggle for ephemeral wage improvements was more or less a diversion from the primary struggle.

As I give voice to Karl's speech to workers (aka 'citizens') organised in the International Workingmen's Association, you will hear Citizen Weston's name mentioned quite a bit, especially in the first few segments. Weston's arguments were influenced by Lasalle's theory that there is an 'iron law of wages' to wit: that the amount workers can get from the economic pie is fixed and that the class struggle over that pie in terms of improving wages and working conditions is  futile. All of Weston's arguments are still being promoted today and are still being accepted by most workers as 'commonsense' e.g. that high wages cause high prices etc.

"Value, Price and Profit" remains the best introduction to Karl Marx's CAPITAL that you'll ever find.  Listen to what Marx had to say here and you will have a head start on grasping his critique of political-economy in CAPITAL volumes I-III and THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE which form what might be called the fourth volume of CAPITAL. Read "Value, Price and Profit" again, after having read CAPITAL and you will truly appreciate what a brilliant speech it  was and how relevant the topics Marx addressed are to the economic and political issues being spoken about and debated today.  You will also discover a Marx most on the left and right have never heard of, a Marx focussed on the primary issue facing workers, their self-emancipation from the wage system, a feat which cannot be accomplished other than through workers themselves becoming class conscious enough to grasp just how enslaved they are.  And now, on to the "Value, Price and Profit", which I have divided into 19 eight or so minute segments.